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Ulterior Structuralist Motives — With Zombies

Ulterior Structuralist Motives — With Zombies (photo)

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Low-budget, Canadian and sneaky as hell, Bruce McDonald’s “Pontypool” is a movie that restores your faith in the ability of genre movies to rabbit-punch your limbic system and your frontal lobe at the same time. Just grabbing the ingenious premise with two hands is a moviehead thrill: the setting is the local radio station for a tiny Ontario town, so small that it occupies not its own building but the basement of a church. The protagonist is Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), a grizzled, boozy, pretentious shock jock whose downward career spiral has landed him in the provincial wilderness, where his indulgent ramblings are largely unwelcome and where he’s only supposed to deliver weather and traffic news. His foils are the patient station manager (Lisa Houle) and a young intern (Georgina Reilly). Amidst the morning-drive drudgery, reports begin to trickle in, of crowds forming and riots beginning and people being chased and torn apart…

We know we’re never going to get out of that basement. The conceptual brilliance of novelist/screenwriter Tony Burgess’ set-up is irresistible, pitting a classic “Rio Bravo” trapped-by-a-siege scenario against the contingencies of talk radio (in which McHattie’s self-involved washout finds himself in the position of being the community’s, and the world’s, only source of information about what appears to be a zombie plague of some kind). The measures of discovery and disbelief are spot-on every step of the way; the fact that we hear but do not see the chaos is a genuine creep-out, in a Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds”-kind of way; and, it should be said, McHattie simply rocks here, so astutely painting this character’s ruinous history and self-entertaining attitude on his face and in his voice that you could see the actor landing a shock-jock radio gig for real if in fact he weren’t so ridiculously busy acting. (Too often relegated to episodic TV, McHattie has appeared in 20 different projects in the year since “Pontypool” began appearing at film festivals.)

01262010_Pontypool2.jpgBut all that’s not quite reason enough to love “Pontypool,” if that’s all it was — a radio-inflected, bell-jar zombie suspenser. The MacGuffins for such scenarios are most often just that — arbitrary and meaningless plot integers (space probes, bacterium) useful only for a little credibility and a big push forward. But here, it’s a different animal, so different I wouldn’t even call it a spoiler: eventually Mazzy and Co. (including the hilariously relaxed Hispanic doctor who may have started the crisis, tumbling in through a cellar window) figure out that, somehow, certain words or even language itself is communicating the virus.

On the surface, it’s a far-out idea echoing out of Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” (a copy of which is glimpsed), and one that’s aptly focused on a radio station, but soon enough you realize that the premise is absurd enough to be Absurdist, soon after Roland Barthes is quoted, and the risible Dr. Mendez makes the Barthesian case that language, in general, can be defined as a virus, even as the cannibalistic-infected hordes hammer at the doors. Can the Post-Structuralists be far behind? “Stop understanding what you are saying!” Mazzy hollers at one point, evoking everyone from Kierkegaard to the Talking Heads in one impacted existentialist moment.

01262010_pontypool3.jpgNote, as British critic Jonathan Romney did, the small plastic rhinoceros on the soundboard, and suddenly you realize you’re in Eugene Ionesco Land, and witnessing a sidewise remake of “Rhinoceros” (filmed for real in 1973 with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, but also staged by Welles in 1960), in which the denizens of a small town (mostly unseen) begin to inexplicably turn into rhinos. For the French/Romanian Absurdist playwright, it was a parable of fascism, of course, but rhetoric is the totalitarian’s primary weapon, and in “Pontypool,” rhetoric itself is the poisoning agent, literally and irrationally transforming an orderly society into raving madness.

What’s a drunken, wiseass loudmouth with a microphone to do? (Bizarrely, “Pontypool” is in the pipeline for a Hollywood remake.) By its third act, “Pontypool” doesn’t even try to be a thriller any longer, but embraces its philosophical agenda and dares to suggest that, in a world of twisted meanings and public lies and empty verbiage, Surrealist poetry and its freedom from common sense may be our salvation.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.